Earlier this year, Wired Magazine tried out something using twitter, #1b1t (1 Book, 1 Twitter), based off of a Chicago literary program called 1 Book, 1 Chicago. The first book chosen by vote was Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, published in 2001, and which has since gone on to receive wide acclaim. It was a book that I had picked up while I was in high school, and had read, over the course of several years, picking it up and putting it away as other distractions came up. Ever since, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to pick the book back up and re-read the entire thing (especially now that I pay far better attention to what I’m reading), and this seemed to be as good an opportunity as any.
American Gods is an absolutely stunning novel, and one that I’ve grown to like over the past couple of years as I’ve gone back to remember what it was about. Re-reading the book this time around proved to be an enlightening experience. My opinions about the book have not changed, and indeed, having now fully understood the story, and with more of a head for storytelling, characters, writing and everything else that goes into a novel, I was impressed once again with the rich story that Gaiman had put together.
The book is the story of America, reaching deep into the roots of the country and providing one of the best examples of Americana that I can think of. Gaiman examines the spiritual core (or lack thereof) in America, spinning a story that pits new gods against old, with Shadow, an ex-con fascinated by coin tricks, at the center of it all. Interludes go back into the past and present of various gods incarnated, walking amongst the people, struggling to reclaim their former glory. Norse, Egyptian, Slavic and others populate the story, as Shadow, and his handler, Wednesday, go to gain support for the older gods, who run the risk at being pushed aside by Modern society and all that it brings. While doing so, Gaiman layers on an intense story that carries multiple facets, with smaller storylines ultimately supporting the larger ones, in a very rewarding fashion. The book is a rich literary soup, and is one to be savored. I have no doubts that I’ll return in the future for more.
The crowdsourcing efforts that had been put together was an incredibly interesting one to me. While I doubt that everyone on Twitter was reading the book (maybe a fraction?), it was interesting to watch the updates fly past as people around the world read the same thing that I did, at the same time (or roughly the same time – I suspect that there are still people finishing up the book). What I liked the most about it though, was that this didn’t come across as a major viral marketing scheme, publicity stunt or some other event that was designed to sell books to readers. This is the value of the internet at its heart, allowing people to gather, discuss and connect across the world over common subjects. It’s a little wishy-washy, (and I’m sure that Gaiman and his publishers are quite thrilled at this), and I believe that it served as a good avenue for discussion, that’s user-borne, rather than organization borne.
American Gods, I thought, was a surprising choice for such a project. The book had been out for just under a decade, and in the speculative fiction genre, but, about America, a place that is just one of many that twitter extends to. Reading over the book, however, I can see that this was probably one of the best books to have started such a project with. While taking place in America, the book is about other places, all brought together in a void in the world: America, where Gods did not exist naturally, and where they cannot stay. Despite what a lot of people think about the country, it is still a melting pot, and I suspect that even overseas readers found a bit of their home transplanted with their long distant relatives who have come across to the country.
At the same time, I finished this book right after I finished another classic author of Americana: John Steinbeck’s To A God Unknown, of which this book is an almost perfect companion to, looking at the nature of faith and of higher power, and my feelings on American Gods were undoubtedly helped along by reading that book.
If you haven’t read it, Gaiman’s book is easily one of the best that I’ve ever read, and easily an early classic in the genre, one that I cannot wait to return to. If you have, you should read it again. The story of faith, living gods and folklore make this a superb, thought-provoking read.